Weeks Thirty & Thirty One

The last two weeks have just been a whirlwind of emotion, I guess. My family came to visit me in Europe, and although it started out great, there was definitely a theme of misfortune throughout much of it. One of the stress points was that I was the only one that spoke any languages, so I had to translate/coordinate things, while also trying to keep my family from panicking. Another stress point was my family’s near pathological avoidance of planning. But those were minor things. The hardest part to deal with was the theft in the second leg of the trip… but let me start from the beginning.

My family landed in Paris. The weather was great, we hit up all the big sights, went to a bunch of museums, and ate a lot of delicious food. Unfortunately, my husband got kind of sick the first couple days, so we didn’t see much of him (at least he had seen Paris with me earlier), but he did manage to join us near the end for a couple things he hadn’t seen before.

The next place we had on our itinerary was Switzerland. As mentioned, my family has some sort of strange aversion to finalizing plans. Thankfully, my mom had ordered accommodation for us near Paris, Geneva, and Munich for the trip, but she hadn’t planned on how to get from one place to the next. We actually weren’t even staying in Geneva or Munich itself for the second and third parts of the trip, but quite far away by public transport in both places, so my parents intended to rent a car once in Geneva and to use it for the rest of the trip.

We took a train from Paris to the small town we were staying at near Geneva (actually in France). The only affordable train that was available by the time we were making the booking would come in after 22:00. Like most small towns, this one didn’t really have a public transport system that late at night, which meant we ended up waiting around for a long time for 2 separate taxis to take us to the house we were staying at.

Then, the next day was completely wasted on trying to get that rental car. We had to split up into 2 groups. One group went to rent a car at a nearby place for the duration of our stay near Geneva, and the second to the Geneva airport (via 3 busses) to rent a different car to Munich. We had to do it this way because the rental car agencies that rented internationally had no cars available since we didn’t reserve ahead of time. Suffice it to say, this was a very stressful and frustrating day for everyone.

The day after, my big brother got sick, and I later caught it as well. (By the way, I’ve been sick 7 out of 8 months I’ve been in Europe.) I was actually expecting to get sick since my family had traveled on planes, so I wasn’t surprised, but that didn’t make it any less annoying. Also, one of the days, my husband ended up having to work so we didn’t see much of him again. But Switzerland, eastern France, and the Alps were beautiful, so we managed to enjoy our time there nonetheless.

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We had to leave quite late on our last day in Switzerland, because we had to do a lot of driving back and forth to drop off the old car and pick up the new one. On our way out, we stopped by Lausanne. My family went to the cathedral, and my husband and I went to visit with a friend.

This is when it all went to shit.

We were having a great time, right up until my big brother called to tell us that in the hour or so that they had been away from their car, it had gotten a window smashed. My husband’s and my backpacks were stolen. These were the only two things in the car cabin (since we didn’t have space for them in the trunk), and so they were the two things that were stolen. Thankfully, nothing else was taken, and everyone’s passports, money, and phones were safe as well. Also, thankfully my friend was willing to waste an entire night with us at the police to help explain the situation, since although I speak French, I would still have trouble with the whole process. Most importantly, no one was hurt.

However, we lost the rest of the day and night to this, and we had to rent a hotel nearby to stay the night as well. Even though it was just mine and my husband’s stuff, we lost a lot of expensive things to this theft, as well as a lot of small things that are just annoying to have to collect again. In my case, I lost my backpack, which had basically my whole life in it (I don’t have a lot with me in Europe). Here’s a summary of the major things:

  • Both of our house keys and my husband’s car keys (~$60 for me to replace, ~$800 for him to replace the electronic car key)
  • My husband’s expensive MacBook Pro (~$1700)
  • Much of my husbands collection of Netrunner cards, along with his winnings (promo cards, special tokens, etc.) from championships (~$350)
  • A brand new Nintendo Switch my husband had just gotten me as a gift with the new Zelda game (~$350)
  • My backpack which I had spent 6 months finding to be exactly right for my needs (~$100)
  • My work laptop that I just bought a few months ago (~$600)
  • A huge external hard drive with a bunch of pictures; thankfully I have the pictures backed up elsewhere (~$100)
  • Almost all of the clothes I own including my nice button up shirt, my travel towel, my toiletries (~$170 I guess)
  • My glasses case with a spare pair of glasses, and most of my glasses cleaning cloths (~$200)
  • Chargers for everything, including my only USB Type C to Type C for my phone and my US extension cord for all my appliances
  • All the little junk I carry in my backpack (e.g. a pocket knife, a combination lock for when I go to hostels, a pen+stylus, plug adapters, my key chains, etc.)
  • My Blizzard authenticator, so I guess I have to figure out how to cancel that
  • All the little souvenirs I had just bought from Paris (magnets/postcards)
  • Around 6 months worth of my thyroxine prescription meds that my husband had brought me from the US

So yea… after this, the vacation got less fun (and of course the two days after I come home are Easter vacation days in Germany, so I can’t even buy replacement clothes right away). I am very lucky that I was with my family during this time though, because they really helped me out. My big brother and dad generously generously offered me their laptops (I ended up taking my big brother’s). My mom bought me some clothes, my dad bought me some chargers and a cheapo backpack, I bought my husband a full collection of Netrunner cards… Basically, all the stuff will be replaced eventually.

After all that, what were we to do, but continue on with the plan? We drove to our AirBnB near Munich. We visited Neuschwanstein Castle, I climbed up to the top of a cliff to catch the sunset, we ate more amazing food, and eventually, we said our goodbyes.

It’s gonna sound weird to say, but despite all of that shit, I had a good vacation. Even though so many frustrating things happened, I didn’t realize how much I had missed my family, and of course my husband (who is still living in the US). And as for the stolen stuff, well, it’s just stuff.

Lessons learned:

  • Keep your passport/money/phone on you. This saved our bacon.
  • Don’t leave stuff in the car cabin. This makes you an easy target..
  • Don’t bring expensive stuff on trips. Then it hurts less to replace.
  • Leave a few pairs of shirts at home so you have clothes for when you return.
  • Have great friends and family. I don’t know how to do that, I just got lucky.

Costs:

  • rent – €225
  • replacing some of my things (should be in the mail soon) – ~$250
  • the gift of an entire Netrunner card collection for my husband – $350
  • souvenirs (most of them now stolen) – €33
  • transportation – €129
  • lockers to store stuff at the train station – €30
  • food (my family paid most of the time) – €60
  • cold medicine/cough drops – €8
  • Total: €404 and $600

Week Twenty-Seven

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This week I went to the French part of Switzerland to visit a friend. His town is near Lausanne, nestled in the middle of a stretch of vineyards, on the banks of Lac Léman, opposite the Alps. In the three days that I was there, we walked all over the place. We climbed up steep roads alongside vineyards on the hill overlooking the lake. We walked down tiny winding paths through the vines themselves. We climbed up towers overlooking the city, including to the very top of the cathedral in Lausanne, and we walked through the cobbled streets and shops down to the lake’s shore. Up and down and all around, I think we probably ended up walking around 15 miles a day, but it’s hard to judge. We also took the train to nearby towns, and out to other cities in Switzerland. All together, we visited the areas of Lausanne, Montreux, Fribourg, Bern, and Luzern.

This region has an ethereal beauty that can’t really be described or photographed– it’s something you have to see for yourself… The vines on the hills below, the spring flowers, the snow-clad faces of the Alps reflecting off the still waters of the lake… I know it’s a cliché to say, but it really takes your breath away.

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Costs

I spent a lot of money again, but actually less than I feared I would. Also, I didn’t really break the costs down that carefully while I was on vacation either.

  • €288 – trips (train tickets, food, souvenirs)
  • €26 – groceries
  • €29 – phone (used more data last month)
  • Total: €343

Weeks Twenty-Five & Twenty-Six

The last couple weeks have not been great for travel. After the shenanigans last week, I’ve been nervous when thinking about having to take more trains. As it turns out, it’s not the trains I should have been worried about. More on that in a minute.

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Last week, a friend from the US came to Europe and we visited Copenhagen together. It was a lovely city that reminded me quite a bit of Portland, Oregon, which I do miss. From the warehouse of street food carts at Paperøen (which turns into a party at night) and the upscale version of the same at Torvehallerne, to the fine/homey dining and fancy beer culture, Copenhagen definitely shares Portland’s love of mixing together the up-scale with the everyman, the weird with the comfortable, the unique with the traditional. (Well, maybe Portland isn’t known for traditional, so in that I suppose they differ.) Both also have a great transportation system, and are also incredibly bike friendly (Copenhagen moreso in both cases, since it is a European city).

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Yea, I feel ya, lady.

However, unlike Portland, Copenhagen is just so damn cold! By March, Portland is usually experiencing that weird spring weather, where it can’t decide whether it wants to rain, hail, or be sunny. By contrast, Copenhagen was quite firmly in the grey, rainy, windy and near 0 degrees Celsius camp. I got through the cold by looking forward to flying immediately afterwards to Porto, where the weather promised to get up to 17 degrees C.

Long story short, go to Copenhagen for food, beer, coffee, gaming, adorable shops, cool castles, viking history, beautiful canals with coloured houses in Nyhavn (an idea apparently borrowed from Amsterdam by King Christian V), and a cool language (check out that vowel space) plus Elder Furthark runes for those of you who are linguists out there– but go during the summer! By the way, you can also visit Sweden, by taking a short train from the Copenhagen Airport to Malmø. Malmø is quite small and there isn’t much there, but if you want a bit of quiet, away from the bustle of the big city, it’s still nice for a half-day trip.

Our last day in Copenhagen, we met some friends for a hot coffee, had an amazingly unique and delicious dinner, and were headed home via the efficient transportation system, when I received an email from Ryanair, the budget airline I was taking to Porto in the morning.

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Malmø, Sweden.

My flight was cancelled.  Apparently, there was some sort of air traffic controller strike in France (is anyone surprised?), and no airlines could fly over France. So even though my plane was not landing in France, since it would have to fly over it, the flight was cancelled. Ryanair reimbursed me for my flight; however, I had already booked a non-refundable train ticket home from that vacation a few days later and an AirBnB. Plus, now I had to get transportation back home from Luxembourg in the morning. Ryanair refused to reimburse me for this (of course), so I am basically out approximately €70. I also don’t know if I’ll have another opportunity to go to Portugal while I am here. Probably not this year, since it’s already looking like it will be a very busy 5 months.

I considered taking the time and going somewhere else for a few days, but honestly, I actually do have a lot of work to get done, and coming home gives me a chance to crack down on some of it before a trip to Switzerland next week. It also gave me a chance to attend a few different gatherings to say bye to folks who are leaving this semester. I gotta say, Saarland is a bit meh, but we have a great group of people that I will really miss. It’s hard to believe I only have 4.5 months left here before I move to Italy… and I don’t speak a word of Italian yet, aaahh!

Costs

I spent a lot on fancy food during my travels so far. It’s only been two weeks, and I’m already projecting to be way over my ideal budget (I expect Switzerland will be quite expensive too). Hopefully, I can stay within my break even budget. That reminds me… I have to catch up on my HiWi job hours.

  • €225 – rent
  • €90 – health insurance
  • €21 – other medical expenses
  • €30 – phone (called my mom a lot this month)
  • €17 – bouldering (wish I knew why they let me in for cheaper one of the times)
  • €230 – dining out/drinks in Copenhagen
  • €86 – dining out/drinks in Köln
  • €20 – souvenirs
  • €24 – groceries
  • €2 – laundry
  • Total: €775

Karneval Shenanigans

I left Saarbrücken for Karneval in Köln on Sunday around 10:00, with the intention of returning Monday night. The train took me through a connection in Koblenz to Köln. The festivities had already started for a few guys in banana costumes, who were drinking and blasting Karneval music on the train. Köln is the center for the Karneval in Germany, kind of like New Orleans is the center for the similar holiday, Mardi Gras, in the US. I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, or Karneval or anything like it before, and I am not a big drinker, but I wanted to experience a bit of this unique holiday.

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I came in on Sunday and met up with some friends who were already there. We had just enough time to grab a late lunch and explore some of the beautiful sights of the city before dark, when we sat down with a glass of wine each at an outdoor patio restaurant. There was going to be a parade on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) so my friends were letting me stay at their AirBnB that night so that I could see the whole thing.

The parade was really something. Beer kegs lined the parade route, surrounded by clown-costumed families and friends, singing “Kölle Alaaf!” Bands, floats, cheerleaders, and standard bearers went by, each group dressed in their own colours. Many of the floats had some sort of political commentary, though I didn’t always follow it.

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As the floats went by, children in animal costumes asked for sweets by yelling “kamelle.” Those in the parade threw candy and flowers in the general direction of the yelling revelers, and the people on the floats rained literal armfuls of candy down at us. These weren’t always small candy pieces either. Often, they were regular sized chocolate bars, and a couple times I even caught actual boxed candy.

My haul was as big as any Halloween haul I have had in the US as a child, and it included not only countless chocolates, wafers, gummies, suckers, and two boxed candies, but also five flowers (that I received by throwing kisses to the people on the floats), an orange, and a small sausage, of all things. The family next to me had three kids dressed up in matching dinosaur costumes, and their loot consisted of no less than five full cloth bags of candy!

Some four hours after the start of the parade, we decided to duck out for a late lunch. When we were done a couple of hours later, the parade was still going on, and people were getting progressively more drunk. I had to catch my train back to Koblenz and then Saarbrücken (SB) early that evening, so we went back to the apartment, I collected my things, and headed out soon after. It was 19:15 when I left to catch my 19:53 train.

That was when it all went to shit.

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Since the rest of this post is depressing, I’ll intersperse it with nicer pictures of the Mosel river that I took on the way home (spoilers, I eventually did make it home), so I can feel less bad about the whole experience.

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Because of the holiday, the Stadtbahn (light rail) in Köln was running entirely irregularly. They gave up on posting the times and just announced that the trains were coming as they could. What should have been a 15 minute ride transformed into a 40 minute slog, with the trains stopping two or three times between each stop, presumably due to people on the tracks or who knows what. I really thought I’d miss my train to Koblenz, but I ran and made it.

My train, however, was late too, and I had a connection to catch in Koblenz to SB. Five minutes transformed to 15 and then to 20. My layover in Koblenz was supposed to be only 20 minutes long so I thought I would miss my connection, but it turns out my next train was also late. I would have 4 minutes to change platforms. As the train came to a stop, me and a handful of others booked it underground towards the next platform. Our train was still there. We ran up to it and pressed the door open buttons; the doors didn’t open for us; the train pulled away. These regional trains usually come in, open their doors for about 30 seconds, and then leave, so it was no surprise.

So now I was in Koblenz and had to find a new connection to SB. I went to talk to the Reisezentrum (trip center). The lady there wrote me an ersatz ticket, putting her official stamp on a form that said that I could take the next train, and that I would get compensated for the delay. I would have another layover in the middle, this time of only 4 minutes (not really enough time to transfer trains, as I had just learned from my last attempt).

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Still, I went back to the platforms and found my train. When it failed to leave more than 10 minutes after the scheduled time, it became quickly apparent that there was no point in staying on it, so I was already trying to get info from the train conductors in my broken German, and googling for new train times. By now it was around 22:00 and I had essentially missed all the connections to SB in other cities, so I needed to figure out a new plan, or else end up spending the night in a train station.

Me and a handful of others ended up getting off this train too. We all went back downstairs to talk to the Reisezentrum again. The lady I got this time was not very helpful. She tried to get me onto a train to Trier, where I would take a taxi for over and hour to SB. The idea was that Deutsche Bahn would reimburse me for those costs (i.e. I would have to pay for it myself first). The lady didn’t let me talk and clarify how exactly this would work. She just kept talking over me, saying that I should hurry up and catch “my” train to Trier. I declined, and told her I needed a ticket back to Köln, where my friend was still staying the night, thank goodness. She turned my ersatz ticket over, and wrote on it that I could take a train back to Köln, and stamped it.

I went back up to the platforms. The signs on platforms 2 and 3 kept switching info. The train back to Köln was supposed to come in to platform 3, but there was a train at platform 2 now and the sign and voice were saying this was the train to Köln. The train was just standing there. I asked a nearby employee if this was my train, but she didn’t know. She said her colleagues on the train believed it was meant to go elsewhere, but they also didn’t know. No one knew.

Eventually, that train took off to wherever it was going (not Köln I guess). At this point, I was getting pretty agitated. I went back downstairs to look at the boards, I went back upstairs to wait for the trains, I just sort of wandered around pointlessly.

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Finally, an intercity (fast) train came into platform 3, but I couldn’t tell any longer if it was my train or not. I asked a nearby Deutsche Bahn (DB) employee, and showed her the paper the Reisezentrum person had written me. The employee asked me if my original ticket was intercity (IC) or regional (RE). I didn’t know how to answer correctly in German, because the first leg of the trip had been on an IC and the second was supposed to be on an RE. Another nearby employee got roped into our conversation, to look at my note. He said it shouldn’t matter, and I should get on the IC train. Unfortunately, by the time he said that, the doors of the IC train were closed, and I was left pressing the button ineffectively (for the second time that night) as the train slowly took off.

There was one more train coming through Koblenz towards Köln that night. One last, late night, ultra slow, regional (RE) train. It was meant to come around 22:30, but was coming 20 minutes late. 20 minutes became 40, but it did finally come around 11:10 or so, and I made it on.

It took 1.5 hours to get back to Köln, because the RE train stopped at every single tiny stop along the way. When I got to Köln, I found the light rail again, and headed back to exactly where I had left from around six hours earlier. Thank the stars my friends still had their AirBnB for one more night, so I had a place to sleep.

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I left early the next morning, and went straight back to the Köln Hauptbahnhof (main station). I asked the Reisezentrum there about how I could get home now. They told me the upcoming schedule and assured me that the handwritten note the lady had given me the night before was sufficient to get me home. I got on the next train to Koblenz (again).

In Koblenz, my connection was a double train, where the two halves would split up in Trier, one going to SB and the other to Luxembourg. I asked three different people to make sure I was on the correct part, because I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. The train followed the picturesque Mosel River towards home, but I didn’t really breathe easy until we passed Trier and I knew for sure that I was headed the right way.

One stop before SB, the train got delayed again for another 30 minutes due to some issue on the tracks. When I finally got back to SB, I went to the Reisezentrum there to ask about compensation. It will take Deutsche Bahn two weeks to compensate me for my troubles, and the compensation will be just half the cost of my trip.

Lesson learned: don’t travel on Rosenmontag.

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Bones

Every country, every city, every family has its systems. Each system is designed to maximize or minimize something, given the limitations at hand. At home, my kitchen system is designed to maximize production and flavour of food while minimizing time spent, given the limits of budget and space. In my previous job, the system was designed to maximize profit for the company while minimizing expenditures, given the limits of the level of compensation and working environment that the workforce will accept. In my home country, the US, the political system is designed to maximize the effect of a given person/ group of people’s power, while minimizing the likelihood of riots.

Humans seem to enjoy creating systems, and are generally quite good at it– one system is rarely enough. In fact, we have created a massive sprawling network of interconnected systems, only parts of which are ever known to any given person. As we grow up, we begin to see more of these networks around us. Some people integrate deeply into them, until they can swim through them with fluid grace. Others, who feel themselves disadvantaged by them, may attempt to snap the delicate threads that bind one system to another, and to weave their own patch into the larger whole. But I would say that most of us probably never fully grasp the complexities of all the systems around us, nor feel up to the task of designing new ones to take the place of the decaying or corrupt ones that we do comprehend. For the most part, we just try to learn the ones most relevant to our situation and get by.

For better or for worse, I belong to the latter camp. Sometimes, I imagine the networks that bind us all together, and I consider the different perspectives that may lead one person to move along a thread in one direction, while another person moves the opposite way. Perhaps with enough study I could help more people move in what I view as the preferred direction. With time, I, too, could learn to dance swiftly across the network’s threads like a spider across her silks. I would build my web, and my prey would come to me.

But I quickly dismiss such thoughts. The dew drops that gather on such webs cause light to refract in a dazzling brilliance, and if I open my eyes to them, I would surely be blinded. I would fall from my the web, and be crushed by the gravity of the world, leaving only bones as witness to my failures.

 

Weeks Five & Six

The last two weeks have been filled with travel, and more officialization. I’m slowly starting to feel like I belong here, in as much as one can ever belong in a temporary and foreign place. For example, I finally found a really good grocery store, thanks to advice from an acquaintance, called Edeka, which has fresh produce and a huge selection. I also bought an expensive pair of shoes that will hopefully last.

I also bought a used bike off of Ebay Kleinanzeigen (similar to Craigslist), because being at the mercy of the bus system was really starting to drive me nuts, plus, I need the exercise. Actually the bike helmet and U-lock cost me more than the bike itself. I admit the bike is a tad large, but its size also makes it powerful, and I think it will work out (if not I can always resell it). Plus it was really a great deal for everything that came with it.

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For 89 euros: an aluminum road bike with fenders, pedal-powered lights, trunk rack, 2 panniers, double kickstand, 2 hand pumps, 3 rain ponchos (why?), some tools (but not for everything), and 2 spare tires

Anyway, having nothing to do for these two weeks, since my classes don’t start till Oct 24th (so late!), I decided to spend part of the time travelling. I have always wanted to see Paris, and it’s just about 2.5 hours train ride from Saarbrücken. Then I visited a friend in Grenoble which is another 2.5 hours or so from Paris. It was nice to spend some time in France using my French language skills, which are better than my German skills– things just felt a little more comfortable because of that. I am really looking forward to being that good (or hopefully even better) in German… but it’s going to take a lot of work.

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Obligatory Eiffel Tower pic (I have so many…)

Paris was gigantic– the monuments are massive, the metro is extensive, the people are numerous. It’s dirty in the way that big cities are dirty, and the people are distant in the way people in big cities are distant. No one was rude though, and I only got hit on once. Because the Musée d’Orsay was open late on Thursday and the Louvre was open late on Friday, I ended up being out for literally 12 hours a day for the first two days (to the point of getting blisters from walking so much). Unfortunately, I had gotten sick the weekend before I went, and all of this walking did not help me recover. I am still coughing/sneezing a little as a result, but it was worth it. The late Thursday/Friday days allowed me to see almost everything that was at the top of my list, but with a city so huge, of course, there were may things I still missed that I will have to come back for.

By the way, I stayed at Le Village Hostel Montmartre, and it was a great experience, so I can recommend them. They were very clean, comfortable, great location next to a metro station and the Sacré-Cœur, and they had free croissants (while supplies lasted) which probably helped cut down some of my food costs.

In terms of monuments, the Eiffel Tower was, of course, a must-see (though I didn’t have time to go up it this time), but the Arc de Triomphe was my favorite. It was so huge, which somehow made Paris feel all the more like a world class city to me. In terms of museums, I was very glad I budgeted a full day to the Palace of Versailles, because it was definitely worth a visit (as was the Louvre of course), but I think I enjoyed the Musée d’Orsay most of all. This museum has the largest collection of impressionist art in the world, and the impressionists are definitely amongst my favorite painters, plus, the temporary exhibition on the Second Empire they had was very interesting as well.

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Clock in the old railway station that is the Musée d’Orsay

Apart from that, I actually happened upon a harvest festival, the Fête des Vendages de Montmartre, at the Sacré-Cœur, which proved to me that the French are just as good at a party as the Germans.

Long story short, I ate a lot of good and expensive food in Paris. Although I didn’t have the forethought to reserve any high class restaurant experiences, my favorite place that I ate at was Le Bistrot des Campagnes, because it was a delicious no fuss dining experience (no reservations required) for a good price. By the way, if you are planning your own trip to Paris, make certain you plan around lunches, because from 3pm-7pm everything is just closed, and you don’t want to be walking around in search of an open cafe.

As usual, the phone pics don’t do the incredible food justice:

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After a fun but hectic time in Paris, I took the train down to Grenoble, a smaller town at the foot of the Alps, to visit a friend. This was the perfect way to wrap up my vacation. Although it was a little cloudy, the Alps were still breathtakingly beautiful, and getting out into the fresh air was exactly what I needed after the smokey bustle of the big city. I could see myself living here, and just hiking all year round. But good food and good company are what make life so sweet. =)

To wrap up… it turns out that when I am bored, I have a penchant for spending a lot of money. In fact, I’m quite embarrassed about the costs these last two weeks, because I’m sure I could have gotten some things for cheaper, or avoided getting them at all and still been fine. I’m sure that once school starts, I’ll be too busy to do this though, so hopefully I can reign myself in the next few months.

Approximate costs these 2 weeks (er.. can we not talk about this?):

  • €100 – shoes
  • €20 – clothes (socks, scarf, tights)
  • €89 – bike
  • €100 – bike helmet and lock (maybe I could have gotten these for cheaper)
  • €120 – groceries (lots of pantry staples that should last)
  • €15 – cookware
  • €12 – notebooks/etc. in prep for classes
  • €456  Total

Approximate costs for travel (aaaaaah what have I done!):

  • €250 – train tickets
  • €130 – Paris hostel
  • €30 – Paris metro tickets
  • €45 – Paris museum tickets
  • €30 – small souvenirs
  • €30 – some gifts
  • €94 – dining out a few times
  • €60 – more food at the festival, bakeries, etc.
  • €669  Total

Foreign

pano_20161010_161239The weather has turned. Clouds obscure the mountain peaks, threatening to descend into the river valley below and to blanket the town in dew. Only the half-hearted efforts of the pale sun can keep the chill at bay, though its fire cannot seem to gather enough strength to dispel the clouds that cling to the mountain cliffs. The trees have failed to notice the coming winter, since they have not begun to change their colors just yet. My visit here was short, but good. Guided by my map, I follow an unknown path to the train station.

My previous home is far away now and I wonder if the trees there have already changed their colors. There, my path was well understood. Carved into the stone cliffs of the river gorge, worn smooth by years of foot traffic, it was the same path I walked each day. I spent years collecting knowledge of the rituals of that place, and the role I was to play in them. They were unique and strange in their own ways, yes, but they were known.

Why did I choose to move to this new place, with its foreign paths, its confusing signs, its arcane rituals? I can play no part here, I am a stranger. In my previous home I had a role, I had stability. There were no hardships for me there. That world was crafted perfectly for my comfort, and as tribute, I had only to give myself over to routine.

The train cuts sharply through the landscape, crossing a river so clear and blue, it could have been carved from aquamarine. The tracks are flanked by green pastures, dotted every now and then with white cows or goats. Small towns with tall church steeples lay nestled in valleys amongst the pastures and the trees. I wonder if the people live happily there.

Even in the comfort of routine, life is hard. Repetition is stagnation, boredom and chronic back pain. Contentment is a shallow happiness. Beneath it grow the seeds of doubt or resentment. For some, routine is an easy tribute, because their adventure lies elsewhere. For me this is not so. (We are not all the same.) This new place brings hardships, true, but what are those hardship really? Uncertainty, confusion, foreignness? I would rather pay these tributes, for in return I receive not a life well lived, but an adventure well explored.